With its bright, airy spaces, the new University Hill secondary school at the south edge of the University of B.C. campus is a far cry from its squat single-storey digs on Acadia Road.
Premier Christy Clark helped officially open the new, larger University Hill secondary Thursday morning.
“The washrooms, oh my God,” said Grade 8 student Ada Zhang. She’s relieved to no longer hear loud noises when she turns on water taps.
Zhang is also pleased to no longer have to run through the rain to attend classes in “depressing” portables.
The old Acadia Road school was built for 350 students and until December accommodated 651 teens with the help of eight portables. Another 40 students studied off-site.
Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus said a student gave her a tour around the old school five years ago.
“I couldn’t get over how crowded it was, how noisy it was, how claustrophobic,” she said, adding when they wanted to talk more they had to exit the building.
“What kind of learning environment is it when you have to go outside?” she said.
The new University Hill in the renovated and expanded National Research Council building on Wesbrook Mall can accommodate up to 1,000 students.
The new school is designed to align with recent trends in learning. The model shifts the emphasis from transmitting information to students to developing communication, critical thinking, collaboration and other skills, says Ron Hoffart, of Graham Hoffart Mathiasen Architects.
Hoffart said his firm designed “learning communities” where classrooms can be joined to a common area by opening sliding doors to break down a sense of alienation and anonymity experienced in big schools.
Principal Alex Grant noted the building many windows allow passersby to see into the small professional rooms for teachers and the classrooms.
“We’re making learning visible,” he said.
Students moved into the new school in January. Shelves still need to be erected in the library and white boards need to go up.
But Grant said the only disappointments in the new school are the low ceilings in the music and drama rooms.
Student council president Edward Chang noted the “spotty wifi.”
The new $37.9-million school was built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold standards and provides copious natural light.
Elite athletes who are training at UBC could study at University Hill in September. But beyond these students, Grant doesn’t expect to accept many cross-boundary pupils because the new school was built to accommodate the growing population of students from ongoing residential developments nearby.
An elementary school is being constructed on University Hill’s old site. Its students are currently studying in portables on the grounds of Queen Elizabeth elementary. The new elementary school is expected to open in 2014.
Clark responded to questions from students in a town hall after the speeches. Some of the questions echoed the sentiment of posters in the halls. One poster read, “STOP Climate Change!”